What does metaphysics tell us about the world?

Discuss any topics related to metaphysics (the philosophical study of the principles of reality) or epistemology (the philosophical study of knowledge) in this forum.
Post Reply
Excaljnur
Posts: 15
Joined: January 30th, 2015, 9:26 pm

What does metaphysics tell us about the world?

Post by Excaljnur » January 17th, 2016, 8:39 pm

The more I study metaphysics the more I become convinced that metaphysics tells us very little about the actual world. And that very little may be nothing at all. This is not the experience of most philosophers I've surveyed because I get rejections of this idea stated in a very matter-a-fact way. The answers essentially consist of the main topics in metaphysics. If I group the answers together the most complete one would sound like this, "Of course it tells us about the actual world, it tells us about causation, properties, universals, particulars, free will and it is the only field in the position to answer why there is something rather than nothing." [To be fair, I have studied massive amounts of Kant's work, so I am largely influenced by his notion of metaphysics, this is where many of my ideas are coming from.] With this answer, I respond, "These metaphysical problems could just be problems that arise when we reach the limits of human cognition. They may not represent anything in the actual world. What if metaphysics is the investigation of how the mind structures our experience of the world, and the limits and capacities of the mind?" I’m tempted to believe that the commitment that metaphysics tells us things about the external world is a contemporary form of strong Rationalism. I am surprised by how many philosophers I know are committed to the idea that you can know things about the world without verifying those ideas empirically.

Am I missing something important about metaphysics? I am not saying metaphysics is useless or answers to metaphysical problems are meaningless. What I am saying is that the answers to metaphysical questions mean less than what many metaphysicians think. The answers (or probable/possibility of answers) reflect the limits and capacities of human cognition, as well as its ability to structure its experience and conceptual thought.

The main questions of my post are:
1) What does metaphysics tell us about the world?
2) How do you know these metaphysical facts are not merely conceptual truths devoid of empirical verification?

User avatar
Bohm2
Posts: 1129
Joined: February 23rd, 2013, 6:05 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Bertrand Russell
Location: Canada

Re: What does metaphysics tell us about the world?

Post by Bohm2 » January 18th, 2016, 5:28 pm

Excaljnur wrote:The more I study metaphysics the more I become convinced that metaphysics tells us very little about the actual world.
What do you mean by the "actual world"? Do you mean mind-independent world?

Excaljnur
Posts: 15
Joined: January 30th, 2015, 9:26 pm

Re: What does metaphysics tell us about the world?

Post by Excaljnur » January 18th, 2016, 5:55 pm

By actual world I mean mind-independent world.

Togo1
Posts: 541
Joined: September 23rd, 2015, 9:52 am

Re: What does metaphysics tell us about the world?

Post by Togo1 » January 18th, 2016, 8:55 pm

It tells you what assumptions you have made to reach your present conception of the world, and what the consequences would be if those turned out to be false, or if different ones were adopted.

Metaphysics isn't supposed to give you facts, it's supposed to give you logical operators with which to dissect and understand your facts, in the same way that logic and mathematics do. Maths tells you nothing at all about the real world, but it's very very handy when you want to logically extrapolate one measurement to another.

Excaljnur
Posts: 15
Joined: January 30th, 2015, 9:26 pm

Re: What does metaphysics tell us about the world?

Post by Excaljnur » January 18th, 2016, 9:32 pm

Togo, that's the best answer I've heard, thanks.

User avatar
Bohm2
Posts: 1129
Joined: February 23rd, 2013, 6:05 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Bertrand Russell
Location: Canada

Re: What does metaphysics tell us about the world?

Post by Bohm2 » January 18th, 2016, 11:12 pm

Excaljnur wrote:By actual world I mean mind-independent world.
I don't think metaphysics can tell us anything about the mind-independent world. Since the structure of our experience and state of our knowledge is largely a reflection of our particular, biologically-given cognitive structures, there is no guarantee that “mind-independent reality” will ever conform to the structure of our cognitive structures. Thus, like all other organisms, we are trapped within our epistemic boundaries. As a result, all our claims to knowledge about the nature of reality ultimately reflects the nature of our minds. As such, one can raise serious doubts about our ability to literally know the world’s “true” character. Consequently, there is no guarantee that any of our “knowledge” (including our mathematical and scientific knowledge) will conform to the “real” properties of the world. Thus, one could argue that our various systems of knowledge and belief will not resemble the “real” properties of the world, in any sense of the word, any more than our physical organs reflect our environment. It then follows that,
Our knowledge...even in science and mathematics is not derived by induction, by applying reliable procedures, and so on; it is not grounded or based on ‘good reasons’ in any sense of these notions. Rather, it grows in the mind, on the basis of our biological nature, triggered by appropriate experience, and in a limited way shaped by experience that settles options left open by the innate structure of mind. The result is an elaborate structure of cognitive systems of knowledge and belief, that reflects the very nature of the human mind, a biological organ like others with its scope and limits.

(N. Chomsky in Language and Problems of Knowledge, p. 526).

So that,
If I had been differently constituted, with a different structure of mind-brain...I would come to know and follow different rules (or none) on the basis of the same experience, or I might have constructed different experience from the same physical events in my environment
(N. Chomsky in Knowledge of Language, p.225).

Even evolutionary arguments that try to show that our innate cognitive structures would have to have a considerable degree of correspondence to external reality, (either because they are a product of natural law or for reasons of ‘natural selection’), are not very compelling. For as S. Pinker points out,
We are organisms, not angels, and our minds are organs, not pipelines to the truth. Our minds evolved by natural selection to solve problems that were life-and-death matters to our ancestors, not to commune with correctness.
Thus,
...so long as the class of accessible concepts is endogenously constrained, there will be thoughts that we are unequipped to think. And, so far, nobody has been able to devise an account of the ontogeny of concepts which does not imply such endogenous constraints. This conclusion may seem less unbearably depressing if one considers that it is one which we unhesitatingly accept for every other species. One would presumably not be impressed by a priori arguments intended to prove (e.g.) that the true science must be accessible to spiders. What is the relation between the class of humanly accessible theories and the class of true theories? It is possible that the intersection of these classes is quite small, that few true theories are accessible. There is no evolutionary argument to the contrary. Nor is there any reason to accept the traditional doctrine, as expressed by Descartes, that human reason is a “universal instrument which can serve for all contingencies.” Rather, it is a specific biological system, with its potentialities and associated limitations. It may turn out to have been a lucky accident that the intersection is not null. There is no particular reason to suppose that the science-forming capacities of humans or their mathematical abilities permit them to conceive of theories approximating the truth in every (or any) domain, or to gain insight into the laws of nature.
So in the end human knowledge is never knowledge of the real nature of things. Instead, it consists of information about appearances, and hypotheses and predictions about the connections of events and the future course of experience (RH Popkin in The History of Skepticism from Erasmus to Descartes, p. 133). Basically, this approach is the one taken by the natural sciences.

User avatar
PNotes
New Trial Member
Posts: 7
Joined: January 18th, 2016, 11:13 pm

Re: What does metaphysics tell us about the world?

Post by PNotes » January 18th, 2016, 11:28 pm

Excaljnur wrote:1) What does metaphysics tell us about the world?
Nothing. Nobody can define "Metaphysics". It's not a term describing reality. It's a term describing abstract nonsense and at best, imagination.

There's no Meta-Physics. There's Physics, Biology, and all the affiliated Sciences. All the rest are worthless waste of time.

Togo1
Posts: 541
Joined: September 23rd, 2015, 9:52 am

Re: What does metaphysics tell us about the world?

Post by Togo1 » January 19th, 2016, 7:34 am

Bohm2 wrote:
Excaljnur wrote:By actual world I mean mind-independent world.
I don't think metaphysics can tell us anything about the mind-independent world. Since the structure of our experience and state of our knowledge is largely a reflection of our particular, biologically-given cognitive structures, there is no guarantee that “mind-independent reality” will ever conform to the structure of our cognitive structures. Thus, like all other organisms, we are trapped within our epistemic boundaries. As a result, all our claims to knowledge about the nature of reality ultimately reflects the nature of our minds. As such, one can raise serious doubts about our ability to literally know the world’s “true” character. Consequently, there is no guarantee that any of our “knowledge” (including our mathematical and scientific knowledge) will conform to the “real” properties of the world. Thus, one could argue that our various systems of knowledge and belief will not resemble the “real” properties of the world, in any sense of the word, any more than our physical organs reflect our environment.

...

So in the end human knowledge is never knowledge of the real nature of things. Instead, it consists of information about appearances, and hypotheses and predictions about the connections of events and the future course of experience (RH Popkin in The History of Skepticism from Erasmus to Descartes, p. 133). Basically, this approach is the one taken by the natural sciences.
This is the approach taken by abstract reasoning in general, and metaphysics in particular. Science does not follow a course of reasoning about connection between experiences, except in very specialist disciplines such as psychotherapy. Instead it postulates a single, shared, objective, physical reality, assumes that our organs of observation give us accurate and true information about it, and constructs a model of reality on this basis.

In other words, if you accept epistemic boundaries, you end up with metaphysics. If you largely ignore the problem, in favour of useful rules of thumb and other a priori assumptions, you end up with natural science.

User avatar
Scribbler60
Posts: 160
Joined: December 17th, 2015, 11:48 am

Re: What does metaphysics tell us about the world?

Post by Scribbler60 » January 19th, 2016, 9:09 am

PNotes wrote:
Excaljnur wrote:1) What does metaphysics tell us about the world?
Nothing. Nobody can define "Metaphysics". It's not a term describing reality. It's a term describing abstract nonsense and at best, imagination.

There's no Meta-Physics. There's Physics, Biology, and all the affiliated Sciences. All the rest are worthless waste of time.
Nailed it.

Metaphysics ls like theology, astrology and tarot-card reading: made-up stuff about made-up stuff. It has no place in an enlightened age.

User avatar
Jehu
Posts: 116
Joined: September 26th, 2011, 5:12 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Nagarjuna
Location: Canada

Re: What does metaphysics tell us about the world?

Post by Jehu » January 19th, 2016, 5:30 pm

Scribbler60 wrote:
PNotes wrote: (Nested quote removed.)


Nothing. Nobody can define "Metaphysics". It's not a term describing reality. It's a term describing abstract nonsense and at best, imagination.

There's no Meta-Physics. There's Physics, Biology, and all the affiliated Sciences. All the rest are worthless waste of time.
Nailed it.

Metaphysics ls like theology, astrology and tarot-card reading: made-up stuff about made-up stuff. It has no place in an enlightened age.
Just curious, but if you and Excaljnur really believe what you say, then why are you both wasting your time trolling a metaphysics forum? Surly there is something more constructive you could both be doing?
I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you.

User avatar
Scribbler60
Posts: 160
Joined: December 17th, 2015, 11:48 am

Re: What does metaphysics tell us about the world?

Post by Scribbler60 » January 19th, 2016, 5:51 pm

Jehu wrote:Just curious, but if you and Excaljnur really believe what you say, then why are you both wasting your time trolling a metaphysics forum? Surly there is something more constructive you could both be doing?
I can't and won't speak for Excaljnur.

When lies are masqueraded as truth, it is only the right thing to do, to call out the lies for what they are. To do otherwise, to stand by silent when lies and misinformation are spread and otherwise thoughtful people are sucked into the vortex of falsehood, is tacit approval and a failure of character.
History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I will not sit idly by, silently.

User avatar
Jehu
Posts: 116
Joined: September 26th, 2011, 5:12 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Nagarjuna
Location: Canada

Re: What does metaphysics tell us about the world?

Post by Jehu » January 19th, 2016, 6:48 pm

Scribbler60 wrote:
Jehu wrote:Just curious, but if you and Excaljnur really believe what you say, then why are you both wasting your time trolling a metaphysics forum? Surly there is something more constructive you could both be doing?
I can't and won't speak for Excaljnur.

When lies are masqueraded as truth, it is only the right thing to do, to call out the lies for what they are. To do otherwise, to stand by silent when lies and misinformation are spread and otherwise thoughtful people are sucked into the vortex of falsehood, is tacit approval and a failure of character.
History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I will not sit idly by, silently.
You are not the first to mistake your own inability to comprehend the subject matter of metaphysics as a short coming of the matter itself. Unfortunately, we can only try to explain it to you, we cannot understand it for you.
I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you.

User avatar
Consul
Posts: 805
Joined: February 21st, 2014, 6:32 am
Location: Germany

Re: What does metaphysics tell us about the world?

Post by Consul » January 19th, 2016, 8:16 pm

Scribbler60 wrote: When lies are masqueraded as truth, it is only the right thing to do, to call out the lies for what they are. To do otherwise, to stand by silent when lies and misinformation are spread and otherwise thoughtful people are sucked into the vortex of falsehood, is tacit approval and a failure of character.
History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I will not sit idly by, silently.
"[N]ot metaphysics but bad metaphysics is the enemy of science[.]"

(Williams, Donald Cary. "The Real Meaning of Sentences." In Principles of Empirical Realism: Philosophical Essays, 46-73. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas, 1966. p. 72)

"One of the ways in which a metaphysician can help a nonmetaphysician is to protect him from bad metaphysics."

(Chisholm, Roderick M. On Metaphysics. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1989. p. 51)

AMEN!

-- Updated January 19th, 2016, 7:32 pm to add the following --

The thread-title question is a meta-metaphysical question.
Recommended reading for those interested in meta-metaphysics:

* Tahko, Tuomas E. Introduction to Metametaphysics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Look inside at GoogleBooks!

Tahko defines metametaphysics as "the study of the foundations and methodology of metaphysics."

"Often metametaphysical debates are debates between those philosophers we might call 'metaphiles', who hold a traditional conception of metaphysics as an a priori enquiry capable of yielding substantive truths about the nature of mind-independent reality, and those we would call 'metaphobes', who have a less grand conception of the discipline or are positively hostile to it. Metaphobia comes in a variety of strengths: there is the view that metaphysical questions are meaningless, the view that metaphysical questions are meaningful but unanswerable, or the view that metaphysical questions are meaningful and answerable but concern only the nature of our experience or conceptual scheme rather than the nature of mind-independent reality.
We find in David Hume an early form of metaphobia. Hume distinguishes between 'relations of ideas', knowable a priori, and 'matters of fact', knowable through experience. Any alleged knowledge that does not fall into either category is 'sophistry and illusion' and should be consigned to the flames of (as it is sometimes called) Hume's bonfire. In effect, Hume was dismissing much of traditional metaphysics.

The comeback of metaphysics against twentieth-century metaphobia is impressive, but the discipline has not returned unchanged. For one thing, many metaphysicians do not think of metaphysics as a purely a priori investigation into the nature of reality: conceptual analysis plays a much larger role than it did prior to the 'linguistic turn', and consistency with our best scientific theories is generally seen as a constraint on a good metaphysical theory. Relatedly, contemporary metaphysicians tend to show a greater humility than metaphysicians of old with respect to what it is possible for metaphysics to achieve. René Descartes (1596-1650) and Kant hoped that one day their metaphysical systems would be universally adopted; contemporary metaphysicians tend not to view the achieving of such consensus as a realistic aim. It is usually accepted that there are few knock-down arguments for or against a given metaphysical view, with which such consensus could be achieved. Rather, arguing for a metaphysical view tends to take the form of building a case, appealing to the relative advantages of the view across a wide range of criteria [so-called theoretical virtues], such as economy, explanatory power, fit with other metaphysical views and with common sense. To use an analogy of David Lewis —perhaps the most influential metaphysician of modern times —, the metaphysician sets up her stall as best she can, but has no way of guaranteeing that other metaphysicians will be interested in buying her wares."


("Metametaphysics." In: Helen Beebee, Nikk Effingham and Philip Goff, Metaphysics: The Key Concepts,122-126. Abingdon: Routledge, 2011. pp. 122-3+125-6)
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

User avatar
Scribbler60
Posts: 160
Joined: December 17th, 2015, 11:48 am

Re: What does metaphysics tell us about the world?

Post by Scribbler60 » January 20th, 2016, 9:36 am

Jehu wrote:
Scribbler60 wrote: (Nested quote removed.)

I can't and won't speak for Excaljnur.

When lies are masqueraded as truth, it is only the right thing to do, to call out the lies for what they are. To do otherwise, to stand by silent when lies and misinformation are spread and otherwise thoughtful people are sucked into the vortex of falsehood, is tacit approval and a failure of character.

(Nested quote removed.)

I will not sit idly by, silently.
You are not the first to mistake your own inability to comprehend the subject matter of metaphysics as a short coming of the matter itself. Unfortunately, we can only try to explain it to you, we cannot understand it for you.
Nice attempt at deflection but, sadly, entirely off the mark.

It's clear that you have already made up your mind about the reality metaphysics, despite thousands of years of failed attempts at proof. You may as well argue for fairies and flying pigs.

Funny, isn't it, that the imaginary, fantasies and the hidden look exactly the same.

You can have the last word here if you wish. I'm done arguing about irrationality.

Togo1
Posts: 541
Joined: September 23rd, 2015, 9:52 am

Re: What does metaphysics tell us about the world?

Post by Togo1 » January 20th, 2016, 10:13 am

Scribbler60 wrote:
Jehu wrote: (Nested quote removed.)

You are not the first to mistake your own inability to comprehend the subject matter of metaphysics as a short coming of the matter itself. Unfortunately, we can only try to explain it to you, we cannot understand it for you.
Nice attempt at deflection but, sadly, entirely off the mark.

It's clear that you have already made up your mind about the reality metaphysics, despite thousands of years of failed attempts at proof. You may as well argue for fairies and flying pigs.

Funny, isn't it, that the imaginary, fantasies and the hidden look exactly the same.

You can have the last word here if you wish. I'm done arguing about irrationality.
I don't get the impression you understand the subject matter. Please let us know if you wish to discuss it.

Post Reply